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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I woke up Monday morning to the persistent thump of military helicopters swirling overhead. I had terror on the brain. Having spent the majority of Sunday night watching news reports dissect the latest terror warning, I knew it wasn't going to be a typical week. The helicopters were hovering in order to monitor the NYPD, who were inspecting an unattended suitcase left in an intersection a mere three blocks from my apartment here in Park Slope. As I readied myself for work, I watched the news as journalists filed reports from in front of the New York Stock Exchange, a mere block from my office. As I rode the subway into the heart of all the attention, it stalled halfway between High St. in Brooklyn and my stop at Broadway/Nassau in lower Manhattan, somewhere underneath the East River. Clutched in my hand was the morning paper with the screaming headline: Terror Targets! I thought, “what could be happening? Why is there no announcement? If I’m under the river, how the hell do I get out of this tunnel? What if there is no Broadway/Nassau stop anymore?? What if there’s no Manhattan anymore??!” I had finally succumbed to Tom Ridge's fear-mongering. The entire city had.

Yes, I was full of fear riding into work on Monday morning. For once, my typical skepticism about his announcements did not prevail. Previous warnings proved to rather vague, typically saying that someone somewhere was planning something that could happen any day but maybe never and which may or may not kill us all, (Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!) No, this warning was different. For one, it contained details. They named specific buildings. They talked of new intelligence. This one felt more authentic. The script was better.

There were still skeptics however. Liberal firebrand Howard Dean immediately stepped out to publicly question the timing of the announcement, saying, "I am concerned that every time something happens that's not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism." But that was to be expected. The insinuation this time was that Team Bush wanted to distract the country from the post-convention momentum gained by John Kerry. But still, I didn't buy into the skepticism this time. For once, I believed them. Helicopters were swirling, snipers were perched on the rooftops, the media was swarming, the Kevlar was out in force - hell, the Bush girls were in town! (don't worry New York, the Bush twins will save the day!)

But then yesterday I woke up to the news that the intelligence which prompted this most recent terrorist scare was at least three years old, perhaps even older. My skeptical instincts bubbled back up to the surface, and I wasn’t the only one. Over the past two days a series of questions have been raised by the president’s opponents, and a collection of rebuttals have been thrown back by his supporters. Tom Ridge spent most of Tuesday defending his warning, saying, "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security." Oh no? Then what was this line all about during your Sunday press conference?

"We must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror."
Also during his defense yesterday, Ridge said, “This is not about politics. It’s about confidence in government.” And there’s the problem right there. The country has no confidence in its government anymore. Who’s to say what’s real and what’s not? What’s sad is that we have to ask. Nearly 40% of respondents in a poll conducted by Time Magazine believe the Bush administration would use terror warnings as a political tool. That's a sad state of skepticism right there, but that's what happens when a goverment loses the confidence of its citizens. How are we supposed to believe these people? Hell, we went to war and have lost nearly 1,000 soldiers either because the administration made a big fat mistake, or because it deliberately mislead us. Either way, I’ve had enough. (well, let’s be honest, I had enough a longggggg time ago) Whatever the case, this administration has a serious credibility issue.

The problem I feel lay in the delivery of the message. What is the purpose of this wildly ill-conceived color-coded terror alert system anyway? Was there a reason to alarm the entire country other than to show that the Bush team is “Tough on Terror”? Other countries, who’ve been fighting terrorism much longer than we have, don’t make these grand, public announcements, they simply tell the people who need to know and deal with it quietly. What is someone in Wyoming supposed to do when the alert level goes up, buy duct tape? They scare the bejeezus out of us and then tell us to go to work and go shopping as though nothing had changed. Why incite panic like this? I’ll tell you why, because it draws attention. And it distracts.

Let’s put it this way, this post was supposed to be all about John Kerry’s acceptance speech at the convention last week and his subsequent road trip to rally supporters, but instead here I am, talking about terror. Kerry who? Halliburton what?

On the same day the country went into lockdown due to this "new" terror warning, President Bush conveniently announced that he was following the recommendations provided in the 9/11 Commission's final report, released last week. To the casual observor it would appear that the president was taking the Commission's advice to heart and taking action to revamp the nation's woefully outdated intelligence gathering apparatus. But upon closer inspection, it's clear that Bush's intention to appoint a national director of intelligence is nothing more than an empty gesture to present the appearance of action.

The new national intelligence director will not be a cabinet level position, nor will the position operate out of the White House. Lord knows, we wouldn't want the supreme overlord of all national intelligence that close to the president and his advisors! Not only that, but the new director would have no sway over budgets and no managment power to fire and hire the people who report to him. Essentially, this is a powerless position and another layer of beauracracy. The Commission itself has already made its criticism of the president's empty announcement known.

Lastly, let's not forget that the Bush administration fought the creation of this Commission and its report tooth and nail the entire way. There's a reason it took three years for this report to be produced, and you need look no further than the Oval Office to find it. Once they finally relented and allowed the Commission to be created, they tried to sabotage it by appointing the unacceptable Henry Kissinger as its commissioner. They held back requested documents and witnesses, Condeleeza Rice, Dick Cheney and the president himself. They refused to allow the Commission more time to conduct its work. And they refused to increase funding for the Commission's work, appropriating a mere $3 million to the group; Republicans spent $40 million on the Starr Report. So really, Bush's praise for the Commission's work and his subsequent psuedo-adoption of its recommendations ring rather hollow.

We can do better.

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